Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 Caldecott Winners

Here are the four books that were honored by the American Library Association on January 23 as the Caldecott Medalist and Honor Books, awards given to the illustrators of the most distinguished American picture books for children:
A Ball for Daisy, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, took the Medal. A wordless book, the story is conveyed through Raschka's simple, almost child-like paintings in watercolor, gouache and ink.  A dog loses her favorite red ball when a poodle steals it and it bursts.  She's down and depressed until a later visit to the park when the poodle's owner gives her a new blue ball.

In an interview, Raschka said the book was inspired by his son at age 4, who was devastated when his yellow ball broke during a quarrel with a neighbor. The author said he began thinking of "those first feelings of losing something beloved" and knowing you can't get it back. For the story, he changed the main character from a boy to a dog.  "When you're a picture book illustrator, your readers are often three or four years old, and you don't want the drawing to be upsetting in itself.  By having an animal, there's some distance, and yet there is still a connection."

I think ages 3-5 is about the right target for this book.  It could also be used with older children to encourage them to tell or write a story to go along with the illustrations.

This is Raschka's second Caldecott Medal; he won in 2006 for illustrating Norton Juster's The Hello, Goodbye Window, and his Yo! Yes? was a Caldecott Honor book in 1994.  Raschka is the 2012 USA nominee for illustration for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Three Honor books were also named. Blackout was written and illustrated by John Rocco, who is also the illustrator of the dust jackets of Rick Riordan's fantasy novel series such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and the Kane Chronicles.  Rocco has an interesting background as an art director on the movie Shrek and a designer of Disney theme park rides.

Blackout tells of a busy family's experiences during a power outage one evening. His colorful cartoon-like illustrations bring out the fun and magic in the situation.  He makes especially good use of silhouettes and the lights and shadows created by candles, flashlights, and stars.  It's a story I think a lot of us can relate to, being forced to "unplug" from our wired, always-connected lives for an evening.

Rocco set his story in his home of Brooklyn and interviewed people in New York City about their experiences in the big August 2003 blackout there.

This book has a Lexile measure of 0, due to the fact it has very few words. It is designated as a beginning reader, so it's probably best for ages 4-7.  It's also appropriate as a read-aloud, with its page-filling illustrations.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith also took a Caldecott Honor. A little boy wanders through a fanciful garden of topiaries created by his great-grandfather that evoke memories of the latter's life.

The whimsical illustrations were created using watercolor, oil paint, and digital paint for the foliage, and brush with waterproof drawing ink for the characters.  This is a very different style from Smith's other books, but it works perfectly with this story.

I loved the subtle message about valuing our seniors for what they remember rather than what they forget, as the little boy collects the tools and accessories his great-grandpa gardener has left behind.  Young children may not get that message, but the parents (and grandparents, and great-grandparents) reading the book to them will, and all will enjoy the little details in the illustrations.  The book's reading level is about second grade.

Smith also received a Caldecott Honor in 1993 for illustrating (his frequent cohort) Jon Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.

The final Caldecott Honor went to Patrick McDonnell's Me...Jane.  This is a picture book biography about primatologist Jane Goodall's childhood.  McDonnell is on the board of directors of the Humane Society of the United States and active in animal welfare work, so this homage to Goodall is fitting.

McDonnell does the comic strip Mutts, and his India ink and watercolor illustrations in this book reflect that style.  Except for double-page-spread illustrations (of young Jane and her ever-present stuffed toy chimpanzee named Jubilee), these drawings fall on the right-hand page, with the text on the left.  The text is overlaid on beautiful, muted ornamental engravings from the 1800s and early 1900s, "evoking Jane's lifelong passion for detailed, scientific observation of nature," according to the art notes at the end of the book.

McDonnell has also included photographs of Jane, as well as some of Jane's own sketches, including a double-page spread "of drawings and puzzles that Jane herself created" as a young girl leading a nature club called the Aligator (sic) Society.  End notes also include an "About Jane" section and "A Message from Jane."  The book's clever title is inspired by Jane's love of the Tarzan books as a child.

This book also won the 2012 Charlotte Zolotow Award "for outstanding writing in a picture book," and was named a 2012 Orbis Pictus Recommended Nonfiction Book for Children by the National Council of Teachers of English. With a third grade reading level, this book would be a good starting point for students even up to third- and fourth-grade to learn more about this famous researcher and her work.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[These books have been purchased for the Dick Smith Library.]

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